Tees Valley Twenty: Ardmore Craig Ltd

Tees Valley Twenty: Ardmore Craig Ltd

The Innovate Tees Valley Festival has been launched in a bid to connect businesses with the networks they need to innovate and continue growing. Engineering design and consultancy business, Ardmore Craig Ltd, is one of the businesses showcasing at the event. Director Andy Stevenson caught up with BQ to tell us more.

Describe your business in no more than 100 words

A North East based engineering design and consultancy business which supplies innovative designs to Companies around the world for demanding subsea and on deck applications in the offshore oil & gas and renewables sectors.


Which particular products and/or services make your business innovative?

We have developed a range of bespoke solutions for our clients including the world’s largest socket passing linear winch and the world’s largest trenching plough (by bollard pull) as well as a unique subsea seabed preparation tool which has been used on wind farms around Europe.


What proportion of your service offer comprises new (under 3 years old) products, materials, technologies etc?

Almost all of our projects are one off’s tailored to our clients individual demands, timescales and budgets. Where we can implement ideas or concepts from previous projects we will try and re-use existing designs but we never restrict our clients to having to settle for solutions which might not be the best fit for them.


To what extent have the innovations enhanced the sales of your other products/services or led to future opportunities?

Our innovative approach has undoubtedly helped us win more work. Often we will never have completed a similar project before or been involved with the type of equipment our client requires. By demonstrating our innovative approach and range of "first of kind" designs it definitely helps our credibility and reassures our clients we can deliver what they require within the budgets and timescales available.


What new skills have been acquired by (and retained within) your company as a result of the innovations?

Our team have learnt (and believe) that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Our client’s requirements for a project brief are unlikely to simplify during a contract so we have to use our skills to question the constraints associated with the task and challenge ourselves to find a solution which solves our client’s problems.

Perseverance and adaptability are definitely two attributes our team members must have as well as the ability to work against tight timescales.


How do you innovate in the way you run your business?

I would say it’s our ability to manage multiple projects at any one time with a small team while still being dedicated to putting our clients’ needs first. In the six years since the business started I’m proud to say we have never turned down a request from a new or existing client regardless of how much work we already had on the go whilst also managing to meet all existing project requirements.


What are your biggest professional achievements to date?

On a personal level and as an Engineer myself I’m proud to have achieved Chartered Engineering status by the time I was 26 and accepted as a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers when I was 30.  Setting up the business in 2010 was a long term ambition and has certainly not been without its challenges but looking back at over 170 successfully completed contracts on behalf of businesses as big as BP & Eon and with equipment used as far afield as China and Australia it is a hugely satisfying achievement.

It’s also important to me that we retain a local focus and we have recently completed work for Darlington based businesses Deepocean and Modus and we work with local suppliers such as Francis Brown in Stockton. I’m also proud that we give something back to the community and over the last three years have been involved with the nationwide STEM programme promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to Primary and Secondary school pupils across the North East. We have even provided STEM based learning tools to Sadberge Pre-School to get children as young as three interested in engineering. All our team take time out of the business to promote engineering to the next generation with school visits, workshops and talks – compared to a talk in front of several hundred school kids, a presentation to a FTSE 100 client is easy!


Where do you see your company in five years time?

Bigger, better and continuing to grow! With the downturn in the oil and gas sector we have already started to explore opportunities in other sectors setting up a sister company – Copeland Clyde to focus on industrial engineering with recent contracts including work associated with Hitachi and a nuclear site.

I firmly believe that when the oil price picks up, those companies who have been able to survive the downturn will be fantastically well placed to capitalise on the lack of resource and capability that remains in the sector.

As a service based provider, I see Ardmore Craig partnering with a wider range of clients to offer them resource and solutions to assist them in their own activities. We are already starting to receive enquiries from established oil & gas clients to assist them in their tendering activities so things are hopefully starting to turn.

As the renewable industry continues to develop and starts to infiltrate different areas around the globe we are also well placed with our track record and range of solutions to assist manufactures, contractors and utility companies around the world.


What advice would you give to aspiring innovators?

Firstly, try and get someone to pay for or at least contribute towards your innovation – this shows at the earliest stage that’s there is some commercial need and desire for your product. A quick look at a patent search will show thousands of people who have paid for patents at their own expense thinking its revolutionary yet never commercialised their idea – a few episodes of Dragons Den would also confirm this.

If you genuinely feel that you have a world beating innovation then use your own skills to earn an income via consultancy work or such like to cover the cost of developing your innovation and securing an initial commercialisation.

Secondly, (noting the above) consideration of intellectual property is also important. While the typical approach may be to secure everything and never assign rights to a third party, you need to consider the end benefits.

We previously won a significant six figure contract from a client who wanted us to develop their initial idea, they paid us for the design but only on the premise they kept the IP. The equipment was very niche (only a few examples in the world) and we were being paid for our services so the comparison to the return on developing the solution ourselves at our own cost and never commercialising it was enormous. The irony is that we were only awarded the contract because a rival business they were in discussions with refused to assign the IP to them. The other supplier still hasn’t developed or marketed their concept while we have finished the design and banked the profit.

Thirdly, while IP can be important, I firmly believe it’s not the be all and end all. I have seen people create patents and leave companies yet the same people have successfully worked around their previous employer’s patents. It’s better to be a position where you are continually innovating and rivals can’t catch you than arguing over previous IP through the courts and stagnating your business.

Finally, innovating can be a challenge, but remember the fun and satisfaction in finding the solution. Personally I find it very easy to move straight onto the next project often failing to acknowledge what’s been achieved. It’s worth taking a pause and celebrating the success with your team before taking on the next innovation.


Ardmore Craig Ltd will be showcasing its innovations at the Innovate Tees Valley festival in Middlesbrough on December 8. Tickets for the event are available free of charge - book your place now at http://innovatefestival.tv/ 


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